I grew up in rural America. Every week or two, we went to town with a long list of errands that needed to be accomplished. A trip to the grocery store was always on the list, a stop at Sears and the fabric store and occasionally a doctor’s appointment. In winter, we left after the ice had melted on the road and always got home before dark and the roads had started to ice up. Since most stores weren’t open on Sundays, Saturday was the “going to town” day. And we always had a case of toilet paper in the garage!
If someone needed access to medical attention, the local volunteer fire department was the closest medical care facility we had. Regardless of the patient’s condition, you got thrown in the car and headed down the mountain to the local community hospital. Many of our people could not afford to take the time off of work to go to a doctor’s office for a diabetes or heart condition checkup, and in terms of mental health, the local preacher was the closest thing we had to a “counselor”.
Telehealth in the Age of Covid-19
This kind of an upbringing has made me a strong supporter of telehealth, long before the Covid-19 pandemic hit. Since the outbreak, telehealth is quickly becoming a well-loved patient care solution by the health care system. Using real time video conferencing, people can access much needed treatment through this virtual visit. Telehealth provides a convenient resource for expanding care and reducing barriers to treatment. Patients and providers find it to be beneficial and there is an expansive amount of research highlighting the effectiveness of telehealth for treating various medical and mental health conditions.
Patients and providers find it effective and easy to access. Studies have shown that there are moderate to strong therapeutic alliances reported by both therapists and clients (Simpson et al., 2014). Another systematic review of 14 studies found that there are comparable patient satisfaction ratings between telehealth and face to face treatment delivery (Jenkins-Guarnieri et al., 2015). Studies have also shown that there are fewer cancellations and no shows when using telehealth. In addition, wait times are essentially eliminated.
Reducing Health Care Service Barriers
People can experience various barriers to accessing healthcare services. Using mental health needs as an example, there is a growing gap in the amount of treatment available and the amount of treatment needed. According to Mental Health American, in 2019 56% of adults with a mental illness receive no treatment, and 1 out of 5 adults with a mental illness reported seeking treatment but were not receiving needed services. Barriers can include limited insurance coverage, lack of services or available providers, and insufficient finances. In non-urban areas there is a significant shortage of mental health providers, including psychiatrists and psychologists. Telehealth can help reduce that shortage by providing a way to bridge the gap between urban areas with large provider numbers and non-urban areas with many unmet patient needs.
For the past five years, Pacific Rehabilitation has been providing tele-behavioral health services to treat patients who are living in various areas of Washington state. We partner with a medical provider or a vocational counseling office and injured workers connect with our psychologists each and every week. We have learned how difficult it is for injured workers to simply get back to work. Many feel disconnected and have taken the role of injured worker with family and friends. They want to return to work but feel anxiety and fear; many suffer from depression. Our psychologists have provided much needed tools and support for them while giving them hope.
Learn more about Pacific Rehabilitation Centers’ telehealth services offered
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